Posted Online: Dec. 30, 2012, 6:00 am

Eat chocolate! A New Year resolution worth keeping

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By Dan Lee

'Tis the time of the year to make New Year resolutions, most of which have been forgotten my mid-afternoon on Jan. 2. However, here's a New Year resolution worth keeping -- a resolution that is not only worth keeping but is fun to keep:

Eat chocolate.

But, you ask, how can something so enjoyable to eat be something that we ought to eat? Something that we might even have a duty and obligation to eat?

There are two reasons eating chocolate can be a good thing:

-- The right type of chocolate eaten in appropriate amounts is good for our health, and
-- Eating chocolate helps put money in the pockets of low income farmers in Ghana and other tropical countries who raise the cocoa beans used to make chocolate.

Let's start with the health benefits. Chocolate is rich in antioxidents, which lower the risk of heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure and other cardiovascular problems. That's not to suggest that you should have a Snickers candy bar for breakfast every day. That would not be a good thing because candy bars made from milk chocolate have a lot of other stuff in them that is not good for you -- stuff like lots of sugar and lots of saturated fats.

Rather, we should focus our attention on dark chocolate, which has a higher concentration of antioxidents than does milk chocolate. And, of course, all types of chocolate, including dark chocolate, should be eaten in moderate amounts because there are a lot of calories in it.

Chocolate, it should be added, is not the only food rich in antioxidents. They can also be found in apples (provided you do not peel them), red grapes, blueberries and strawberries. Red wine is also an excellent source of antioxidents. So here's what you ought to do: on a regular basis, enjoy a glass of red wine along with four squares of dark chocolate and a fruit salad of red grapes, strawberries, blueberries, and red apples (sliced but not peeled). Sounds pretty good?

But what about farmers in Ghana? How do they end up being part of the equation? Here are some basic facts about agriculture in Ghana:

-- The estimated 2011 per capita income in Ghana was $3,100, placing it 172nd among the nations of the world.
-- Nearly half of income in Ghana accrues to the top 20 percent while the lowest 20 percent receives less than 6 percent of the national income.
-- Ghana is the world's second largest producer of cocoa beans, which account for approximately 30 percent of the country's export earnings.
-- The cocoa beans produced in Ghana are of very high quality and are known for their excellent flavor, making them highly desirable for gourmet varieties of chocolate.
-- About 90 percent of farm holdings in Ghana are less than five acres in size, with the soil worked by hand.
-- Most of the cocoa beans exported by Ghana are produced by small farmers, with the beans marketed by the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), a government agency.
-- The World Cocoa Foundation African Cocoa Initiative has helped the small farmers who raise cocoa beans by providing better seed stock and other supportive services.
-- In the southern tropical forest belt where cocoa beans are produced, poverty among cocoa farmers has diminished as a result of increased earnings from export sales.

So there you have it. Eating dark chocolate in moderate amounts is good for you and it is good for the small farmers in Ghana and elsewhere who produce the cocoa beans used to make this chocolate. Does it get any better than that? Don't we have a duty and obligation both to take care of our health and to help impoverished farmers in Ghana and other cocoa-producing areas?
Dan Lee teaches ethics at Augustana College; danlee@augustana.edu.